Why most people don’t succeed – How you can be the exception

Common: Psychological burn-out due to overlooking the immeasurable sources of drive.

Uncommon: If you ignored the fact that your car required an oil change, what would happen?  (No, this is not a trick question.)

The vehicle’s functions would be utterly undermined leading to complete engine failure.  However, it’s not just cars that require tune-ups.  Ultimately, just about everything requires some extra attention.  We wouldn’t wash a car once and expect it to be clean forever.  We wouldn’t go to the gym for one workout and expect to be fit for life.  And we certainly wouldn’t ingest vitamins once and expect our bodies to be eternally nourished.

This is all common sense.

But why then, are so many people unpleasantly surprised when they feel unsatisfied or don’t perform at their full potential? Not surprisingly, like a car, our dirty laundry, or our computer, we too, need tune-ups.  But sadly, it seems to be human nature to wait until something is not working in our lives before we change our priorities.

Although this concept does not only apply to our physical health, I thought I would share part of a conversation I had recently with a doctor who confirmed this idea.  “The big problem I see,” he said, “is the number of people who do not consistently maintain their health and ignore the many amber alerts indicating that their behavior needs to change.”

The doctor continued, “Most patients look at professional help purely as a last resort; meaning once the pain gets unbearable, they finally come in.  Sometimes I can help, but other times, it’s God’s business at that point.  People are not very proactive when it comes to their personal lives.  I don’t understand it.  What wait?  Why risk it?”

On some level, most of us expect our personal life to de-frag itself, to watch the wrinkles and flaws simply iron themselves out.  We can easily see how this strategy has worked out.  It certainly explains the alarming rate of depression, overwhelm, and chronic health problems in society today.

Panic is a strategy for fire stations:

Why then, do we operate our lives like fire stations; passively waiting for disaster to strike before taking reactive measures?  Why experience heartache before taking a step back to consider adapting our approach?  Here is my three-word-theory: Maintenance is boring.  We don’t even enjoy taking our car in for a tune-up let alone consistently confronting our own personal baggage.

It is far more pleasurable to pander to our immediate desires.  There is also a thrill in creating/doing something new.  But the same cannot be said about maintenance.

Maintenance requires discipline, routine, and brutal self-honesty – not words we commonly associate to pleasure.  I will be the first to admit the challenge of exercising regularly, adhering to core values, eating healthy, honoring commitments, and engaging in personal reflection and evaluations.  It’s difficult – as are most things worth doing.

The inordinate reward:

But in every challenge there lies an antithetical reward, an often unintended opportunity.  Why?  One reason is because the majority opts to avoid confrontation.  Thus the obvious consequence is fewer people who follow through with acts of maintenance – the behavior needed to perform at their peak.  The not so obvious consequence is the disproportionate reward for the few who do master maintenance.

The reason is simple: Most people simply don’t stay in the game long enough to win it.  Instead, they run out of steam or choose to settle.  Therefore, the abundance that exists is distributed generously to those who do what the majority is simply unwilling to do.  I am reminded of a quote from my days in self-help: “Successful people are successful because they are willing to do what unsuccessful people are unwilling to do.” So simple.  So true.

Life is not a zero sum game.  But stagnation and lazy habits certainly create vivid impressions of lack and deprivation that people mistaken for absolute universal laws. But fortunately, there is enough [enter your definition of success] to go around.  (I can hear the pessimist reader cringing: “Enough of ‘what-exactly’ to go around? Happiness?  How do you measure that anyway?” And therein lies a costly misconception…)

The modern metrics dilemma:

While some outcomes of personal maintenance are clearly visible (savings account balance, weight, appearance, sales figures, etc.), many are not.  Sometimes to a fault, we place an exorbitant amount of attention on measurable metrics assuming what is most important can be measured.

In our dogged pursuit of what is quantifiable we often neglect what is not. Maintenance loses much of its glory due the numerous immeasurable, overlooked, and undervalued rewards.

Perhaps, Einstein said it best, “Not everything that matters can be measured and not everything that can be measured matters.”  Without concocting a rigorous study (which most of us will never organize for ourselves), it is difficult to measure personal satisfaction, peace of mind, elation, engagement, etc.

“Big deal. Gimme results!” the pessimist exclaims.

Blinded by outcome, we are quick to overlook the root causes of such outcomes.  It’s often the immeasurable factors that fuel the behavior required to produce the measurable results.  An absence of satisfaction and passion begets results only in the interim.  If success is a combination of process, experience, and outcome then sustenance is imperative.  But caught up in the modern allure of immediate, quantifiable results, we burn out frequently, quit regularly, and rarely experience notable success.

Long-distance goals cannot be achieved without maintenance (ask any marathon runner).  Daily disciplines enable long-term performance and uncommon results.  In fact, the very nature of the word “maintenance” embodies a consistent commitment to the long-term… otherwise each action is merely anomalous – and like I’ve always said, the only difference between “luck” and “skill is consistency.

Inciteful Questions & Actions:


  • Get honest about your current situation. Rate the following areas of your life on a scale of 1-10: Physical Health, grades, job performance, personal happiness, relationships, financial situation, etc.
  Then follow up with the question: What would it take to make this area a 10?
  • Set reminders in your calendar/on your phone to increase consistent follow through.
  • Form an accountability partnership with a friend or small group to review and critique progress and process.
  • Identify the times you performed at your best and deconstruct the routine that enabled the result.  What form of daily maintenance aided your performance?
  • Schedule time with yourself away from distractions. (If you can set an appointment with the auto mechanic or your hairdresser, you can schedule an appointment with yourself.)  During this time you may wish to address the questions below or create your own.  Record your thoughts for future reference.


  • What top performer/s (athlete, business magnate, etc.) do I admire most?  What routines might they use to maintain their edge?
  • What are the consequences of neglecting maintenance?
  • What unforeseen rewards might stem from a commitment to consistent follow through in the area of ___ [your desired activity]?
  • How have I formed new habits in the past?  What process works best for me?
  • What new routines could I instigate that may ease the process of maintaining constructive behavior?
  • At what time should I schedule my next personal tune-up?

Your thoughts?

What are your thoughts about personal maintenance influencing performance?  What techniques do you use to ensure consistent follow though?  Post your comments below.

Stay uncommon,

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